Saturday, October 17, 2015

SPORTS STORY >> Miscues hurt Devils

Leader sports editor

Pulaski Academy’s offense was as potent as ever Friday night at Jan Crow Stadium. The Bruins threw for 574 yards, but still got a tougher tussle from the Red Devils than most expected. Jacksonville lost 48-13, but it was a much more competitive game than the score would indicate.

Jacksonville was just a couple of miscues away from making it a very tight game, but those mistakes proved to make all the difference.

“We had a chance to tie it up there late in the second quarter and we fumble it,” said Jacksonville coach Barry Hickingbotham. “Then right there at the start of the second half, we have a chance to get it back to seven. We get it and drive down to the goal line and throw an interception. It’s no consolation, but the character these guys showed is what I’m proud of. They don’t play like a 1-5 football team. They played their guts out. They left it all on the field.”

PA tried seven onside kicks, including six different varieties. Jacksonville was well prepared, covering six of them.

“We had a miscommunication on the one we didn’t get,” Hickingbotham said.

Pulaski Academy’s ability to strike quickly offset its long droughts of not scoring. The Bruins scored on the game’s first possession on a 5-play, 68-yard drive. Jacksonville’s first drive started well also, but a 32-yard run by Shawn Ellis that would’ve put Jacksonville in the red zone was called back for holding. Jacksonville ended up punting, and PA scored again on a 68-yard touchdown pass from Layne Hatcher to Zackary Kelley that made it 14-0 less than five minutes into the game.

Jacksonville lost 5 yards on three plays on its next possession and punted again. Punter Tyler Hooper had a great night for the Red Devils. His second punt pinned PA on its own 13-yard line. Facing fourth and 4 from their own 19-yard line, the Bruins went for it and failed.

On the very next play, Jacksonville quarterback Rowdy Weathers hit Har’Derrious Martin up the middle for a touchdown. The extra point made it 14-7 with 4:34 left in the first quarter.

PA drove deep into Jacksonville territory on the next drive before Martin intercepted a Hatcher pass at the 2-yard line and returned it 20 yards. Jacksonville drove to the PA 40 before punting again. PA drove 20 yards before defensive back Stevie Eskridge picked off a Hatcher pass and ran it back 46 yards to the PA 24.

That’s when Brandon Hickingbotham bobbled the snap and then fumbled the handoff exchange with Ellis, and PA covered it at the 30.

The Red Devils again held PA to four and out, but lost 5 yards on the ensuing possession before punting again.

Starting from their own 12, the Bruins needed just six plays, getting the last 43 on one pass from Hatcher to Kelley to make it 21-7 with 4:53 left in the first half. Jacksonville covered the onside kick and started from its own 48, but went three and out.

PA then hit big on a 46-yard pass to Tre Bruce that moved the ball to the Jacksonville 11. A draw play to running back Jaren Watkins got the rest on the next play, but a drop-kick extra point attempt went wide left, leaving it 27-7 with 2:10 left in the half.

Jacksonville covered another onside kick and after an initial 2-yard loss, Weathers hit Eskridge for a 36-yard gain. He then found Dalan Patterson for 16 yards before keeping on a delayed quarterback draw for the final 14 yards and a touchdown.

The extra point missed, leaving the score 27-13 with 38 seconds left in the half, and it remained that way until the break.

Jacksonville covered another onside kick to start the second half, and Weathers hit Hall for 33 yards on first down to the PA 16.

On third and 7, Weathers was picked off by Cody Andersen at the 4. Andersen returned it all the way to Jacksonville 32 before Weathers chased him down and made the tackle. But it was at a cost. Weathers suffered a dislocated shoulder on the play and did not return. Jacksonville gained just 44 yards the rest of the game.

The Bruins scored on the ensuing possession to go up 34-13 with 9:16 left in the third quarter. They covered their onside kick, but the Red Devil defense pushed them backwards 17 yards and held on fourth down. That gave the home team good field position at the PA 35.

Martin moved to quarterback for Jacksonville, and PA decided to blitz the third-stringer, dropping him twice for -17 yards. Martin had to scramble again on third and 27 before throwing incomplete.

Another good punt by Hooper pinned PA on its own 7, but the Bruins went that distance in nine plays with the help of a defensive holding penalty on third and 8. The key play was a swing pass that turned into a 54-yard gain by Trajen Johnson. The touchdown was an 8-yard pass from Bruce to Kelley that made it 41-13 with 4:57 left in the game.

Jacksonville covered the onside kick, but Andersen got his second interception for the Bruins. Jacksonville returned the favor when Nate Robbins intercepted a deep Hatcher pass at the Jacksonville 3-yard line.

The Red Devils picked up one first down, but lost 8 yards on third and 3 before Hooper booted another good punt 46 yards to the PA 39.

Jacksonville backed PA up 10 yards in two plays, but gave up 11 yards on third down, and a 14-yard pass to Bruce on fourth and 9 to keep the drive alive. Watkins then went 41 yards up the middle on a draw play before a double-reverse flea flicker pass from Bruce to Kelley set the final margin.

Hatcher completed 27 of 50 pass attempts for 506 yards and three touchdowns. Bruce completed 4 of 6 attempts for 58 yards and two touchdowns. Three Bruins had more than 100 yards receiving.

Kelley caught 10 passes for 194 yards and three touchdowns. Bruce caught 10 passes for 152 yards and one score. Johnson caught seven passes for 103 yards. Pulaski Academy piled up 622 yards of offense to 177 for the Red Devils.

Both teams’ next game is at Mills. The Bruins (7-0, 4-0) travel to Mills next Friday.

Jacksonville (1-6, 1-3) is off next week and will return Oct. 30 at Mills.